IOWA CITY — Iowa’s first 60 minutes of the basketball season was almost too easy for the Hawkeyes.
So midway through the second half Monday against North Carolina A&T, the Hawkeyes decided they needed some self-inflicted adversity. Iowa still won 95-79 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena but the second half was sloppy, especially on defense.
“It was a matter of as much as you try to prepare for a game like this, it’s not easy. It’s going to be a rat game,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s how they play. They’re going to trap you all over, they’re going to scramble. When to take the 3 and when to pass up the 3 and when to keep them on defense, it’s not as easy as it looks.”
After leading by as many as 27 points, Iowa’s lead dwindled to 14 points with 6 minutes, 45 seconds left. The Hawkeyes had 22 turnovers and struggled to defend North Carolina A&T in transition and along the perimeter.
“They’re a type of team that’s just scrappy and stuff like that, and we kind of got into what they do instead of what we do,” Iowa sophomore Zach McCabe said. “We weren’t playing tough at the end and that’s what we have to do, play tough, be mentally tough and our guys keep playing and be smart.”
“(McCaffery) clearly put on the board 22 turnovers, and that’s what we’ve been talking about, not giving up turnovers. That’s what we did tonight.”
But the second half also provided some teachable moments for Iowa. The Hawkeyes didn’t allow its lead to fall into single digits. Iowa weathered an 18-6 run, then scored on nine of its next 11 possessions. Iowa out-rebounded North Carolina A&T by 21 and hit 49.1 percent from the field, including 55.6 percent in the second half.
Individually, Iowa put up some sterling numbers. Senior Matt Gatens scored a career-best 27 points and grabbed six rebounds, dished four assists, had two steals and only one turnover in 34 minutes. He passed Kenny Arnold, Michael Payne and Chris Kingsbury on the school scoring list. Gatens now stands in 26th with 1,137 points.
“Was it a career-high?” Gatens asked after the game. “That’s cool. That’s the first I heard of it.”
Sophomore Melsahn Basabe had 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Eric May scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds. McCabe and Bryce Cartwright each scored 12 points.
“I thought we got some easy looks, some fast breaks points which was great,” Gatens said. “(We need to) tighten some things, but it’s great to see the offense pushing up toward 100 again so we’re getting close. It’s good to see us running the break well and getting some looks.”
McCaffery was pleased with the offensive output, which included Iowa’s second consecutive game with at least 95 points.
“I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job,” McCaffery said. “Now, we probably turned it over. You’re going to turn it over against a team that’s playing like that. You’re going to turn it over more than normal.”
Iowa plays host to Northern Illinois on Thursday.
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